Saturday 10 December 2016

Young soldier who assaulted man on night out successfully appeals sentence on grounds that judge 'rejected evidence of excessive self defence'

Ruaidhrí Giblin

Published 15/06/2015 | 16:38

Stephen Lyons (23) successfully appealed his sentence today
Stephen Lyons (23) successfully appealed his sentence today

An aspiring soldier whose hopes of an army career were lost when he assaulted a Filipino national on a night out in Newbridge, has successfully appealed his sentence on grounds that the judge “rejected the evidence of excessive self defence”.

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Stephen Lyons (23), of Morristown Estate, Newbridge, Co Kildare, had pleaded not guilty at Naas Circuit Criminal Court to assault causing harm to a man at Strandhouse Road, Newbridge, Co Kildare on October 31 2010.

He was found guilty and sentenced to four years imprisonment with the final 18 months suspended by Judge Michael O'Shea on June 30 2014.

Lyons successfully appealed his sentence today on grounds that the sentencing judge “without notice rejected the evidence of excessive self defence,” in the words of Mr Justice George Birmingham.

The three-judge Court of Appeal imposed a new sentence on him of two-and-a-half years imprisonment with the final 15 months suspended.

Counsel for Lyons, John Aylmer SC, said the injured party “initiated this matter”.

The court heard that there had been an altercation involving the injured party and a group of young people. There had been name calling and the injured party took up a position behind a wall with a view to confronting those he was in disagreement with.

Lyons had been walking ahead of the group of youths with his girlfriend when the injured party jumped from behind a wall wielding a knife, Mr Aylmer said.

He said the injured party “thrust the knife” in Lyons' direction and Lyons “did the proper thing, he turned on his heels and ran”.

Lyons was outrun by the injured party leaving him with no option but to attack him with punches, Mr Aylmer said, punching him to the ground.

There was a struggle on the ground, he said, and Lyons was stabbed in the scrotum.

A point came where the injured party was “dealt with” and “no longer a threat,” Mr Aylmer said, and three witnesses gave evidence that there were kicks to the head.

Mr Aylmer submitted that the sentencing judge “preferred a different version of the facts which he gleamed from his notes and recollection of the trial” and defence counsel were not on notice that he intended to do so.

Mr Justice George Birmingham said the sentencing judge had remarked that the offence was of the highest level.

Those remarks were quite understandable if he had been dealing with an unprovoked assault. However, “the full context of this is really rather different,” Mr Justice Birmingham said.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the sentence was “unduly severe” given all the circumstances and Lyons' background.

He said the injured party's injuries included a fractured skull and he spent five days in intensive care.

Lyons had no previous convictions, had not subsequently come to the gardaí's attention and had a “very positive” probation report.

He had applied to join the army, had passed all of the tests but his hope of a career in the army had been lost as a result of his conviction.

He was currently working with a recycling company, is the father of a young son and is in a stable relationship, the judge said.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Seán Ryan and Mr Justice John Edwards, set aside Lyons' sentence and imposed a new sentence on him of two-and-a-half years inprisonment with the final 15 months suspended.

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